• Wednesday 3rd June 2020

Baluchistan Separatists In Pakistan Beset By Divisions By Tom Hussain Mc Clatchy Newspapers

Indeed, Baluch separatists have little backing from the outside world. Neither neighboring Afghanistan nor Iran has any interest in fueling the insurgency, analysts said.

From there, they observe the comings and goings of potential threats – mainly Pakistani paramilitary forces – and plot attacks from the thorny brush along the isolated roads. Pointing to footprints in the sand marking the insurgents’ path through the brush, the Baluch activists in this farming district on the periphery of an eight-year nationalist rebellion said that ambushes are common here because the prey have nowhere to run.

Baluchistan – a vast wilderness bordering Afghanistan and Iran – has become the chaotic battleground for cloak-and-dagger conflict between Pakistan’s military intelligence services and nine insurgent groups. But activists, insurgents and political analysts say that the festering insurgency lacks the political direction and momentum of a coherent independence movement, thwarting chances for a swift resolution to a conflict that’s become increasingly deadly.

Violence spiked in Baluchistan last year, when 621 people died in insurgency-related violence, including 231 people who were kidnapped and later found dead, human rights groups have reported.

The conflict briefly attracted the attention of Congress in February, when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced support for an independent Baluchistan, citing allegations of widespread human rights abuses by Pakistani security authorities.

Islamabad, which flatly denies any abuses in Baluchistan, reacted angrily, and Rohrabacher’s call was quickly disowned by the Obama administration. The White House has no interest in further straining ties with the Pakistani government, whose help is considered key to ending the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Indeed, Baluch separatists have little backing from the outside world. Neither neighboring Afghanistan nor Iran has any interest in fueling the insurgency, analysts said.

The conflict largely has been an internal tussle between powerful tribal chiefs and the Pakistani government for control of Baluchistan’s natural resources, particularly natural gas. Since the 1960s, the Baluch have watched as gas produced here – some 36 percent of Pakistan’s total supply – is transported by pipeline to the rest of the country while their own province remains Pakistan’s least developed.

“Gas, electricity, water – we are fighting for control of these resources,” said Amir, a Baluch activist who asked that his full name be withheld to shield him from reprisals.

However, activists and analysts said the insurgent groups in Baluchistan lack the manpower and armed capability – and arguably even the ambition – to mount a fight to the end against Pakistan’s powerful military.

Direct confrontations between the insurgents and army-led paramilitary forces of the Frontier Corps are relatively infrequent, they said. Rebel ambushes of paramilitary convoys and posts have tended to be in revenge for kidnap, torture and murder incidents allegedly carried out by the military’s intelligence services.

Mostly, the insurgents have specialized in sabotage, repeatedly blowing up sections of the pipelines carrying natural gas from fields in Baluchistan and the railway lines that link it to the rest of Pakistan.

Various insurgent faction leaders living in exile in Britain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates also have been reluctant to form a united political platform, although they loosely share independence as their stated objective.

The analysts said the political incoherence of the insurgency was a direct reflection of Baluch culture, with most fighters restricted to territory defined by their leader’s tribal identity.

“Different armed groups operate in various districts and they do not interfere in each other’s areas of operation,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Baluch Hal, an English-language news website covering Baluchistan.

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